So your toddler is exhibiting signs of becoming or has become very fussy. The first thing to do is not panic and read on…
I’ve already shared loads of tips for developing healthy eating habits already in previous posts, you can catch up here.
- Part one – Developing healthy eating habits in toddlers is so important for growing healthy, robust children and laying a foundation for a lifetime of good health and love of whole foods. Read more here.
- Part two – I discuss understanding little ones new and changing tastes, knowing what to do when they fuss and also tips for when they are sick. Read more here.
- Part three – More tips including the transition from smooth to lumpy, introducing new flavours and textures & messy meals. Read more here.
- Part four – How to make every mouthful count. Basic nutrition for toddlers. Read more here.
Here’re a few more things you might like to consider…
Keep your cool
Toddlers are aware and attuned to your anxiety and if they get a whiff of it, you will make it harder on yourself in the long run. Even toddlers like to engage in power plays and test boundaries with food. My first born was the best at it and I had to be very conscious of becoming irritated with her at meal times. Be cool, calm and collected all the way. You have nothing to gain by getting frustrated that they don’t want to eat what you’ve lovingly prepared. Becoming upset with them will not change their minds.
Start as you intend to continue
If you choose to give in at dinner time and take away a nourishing meal and replace it with something less nourishing (even if you’ve insisted earlier that they won’t get anything else), then your toddler will have got their way and will expect this to happen all of the time. Your call but I’ve found that consistency and following through in any part of parenting is important.
They won’t starve
I totally understand that desire for them to eat a big meal so they sleep well and don’t wake too early; I’ve been a sleep deprived mum too, I get it. But it won’t help in the long run. I have sent my kids to bed with very little to eat many times and it hasn’t altered their sleep patterns at all. Sometimes they are not feeling great or just too tired to eat so forcing them, or trying to tempt them with other food is counterproductive and sets up very bad habits.
I have already discussed this, but I can’t overestimate how important this is. Kids do as you do, not as you say. Demonstrate to your toddler how much you enjoy what you’re eating. Share a plate of food and make lots of pleasurable sounds whilst eating (dramatic but effective). With an older toddler, tap into their love of hero’s or role models. Say they love Dora and if they push food away; put your hand out and say “I’ll have that, it’s really yummy plus I want to be as strong and clever as Dora!” – whatever appeals. Don’t harp on, just regular subtle hints. Also don’t talk health or ‘this is good for you’. Most toddlers aren’t the least bit interested in being healthy or ‘good’.
Get them involved
Get them involved in producing the meal in any way you can. I understand they have an attention span of seconds, but anything they can do to be involved will help. I will give you lots of ideas of ways to involve toddlers in the kitchen soon (it’s simpler than you think). The photo above is my daughter simply tossing a salad.
Are they really hungry?
Many kids are fed a stream of snacks during the day or given milk close to meal times. This is seriously counterproductive to them having a desire for a healthy meal come dinner time. My next post will cover the cardinal sins of snacking.
Fussiness is not a good enough excuse
Don’t use food fussiness as an excuse to feed them nutritionally void foods. You persist when toilet training or teaching other life skills like reading and writing. You won’t be reporting to their teacher when they start school that they don’t like reading so there’s no point in trying to teach them. Persist with patience and praise and you will prevail.
When they are not interested in eating vegetables and/or protein
So many kids are veggie and/or meat fussy. I think many people think my kids have always just eaten big bowls of salad leaves and amounts of veggies. The fact is they haven’t. I took me three years of serving up salad leaves for example for either of my kids to accept, and now love salad. You have a few options beyond the before mentioned tips with veggie and meat fussiness…
1. Hide them – use any meal you make as an opportunity to hide vegetables. I have found that very fussy kids are often nutritionally deficient and these deficiencies perpetuate their fussiness. For example, a zinc deficient child will have a poor appetite and generally only desire sweet or processed carbohydrate which leaves them even more deficient (vicious circle). The more nutritionally satisfied a child becomes, the more open and willing they are to trying and eating new whole foods. So for this reason, if hiding veggies is the only way to kick start that desire, then hiding it is. Process them finely and mix with whatever you can. I have lots of hidden veggie type of recipes on my website.
2. If you don’t hide them, at least, make them tasty. Don’t serve up plain old steamed veggies. Add flavour, a blob of butter, squeeze of lemon, splash of olive oil. Make a dipping sauce of plain yogurt with a little tahini and seasoning or a pesto or hummus. I’ve found lots of kids love playing around in a dip. Again demonstrate how it’s done and share it.
3. Try lots of different textures and ways of cooking a food. For some kids they like the meat blended into a soup, others chopped into little pieces. My kids always loved gnawing meat off the bone so a drumstick or a lamb cutlet was always appealing to them.
4. But always serve them up, this is VERY important. Keep putting just a small amount on their plate, every meal (even when you’ve hidden them, serve them whole too). As they get older you might like to start a rewards chart to encourage them to try new things (I’ve always taken the you don’t have to eat it, but you do need to try it approach) – no force, just encouragement and lots of praise.
Finally, it is not a stroke of luck that I (and many others) have kids who eat almost anything. It is a case of firm boundaries, patience, and persistence. Doing the hard yards from the get go is the simplest way of raising a healthy, nutritionally satisfied child.